Cooperation and its Failures: from the 1960s through the 1980s
12 Metaphors towards understanding the dilemma for the 1990s
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The following set of metaphors endeavours to highlight
the range of mind-sets through which cooperation has been so enthusiastically
pursued in the last 30 years - with questionable success.
Fundamental problems associated with each are briefly noted.
The metaphors provide contrasting windows through which the imagination
can explore the ways in
which people, groups, factions and governments organize meetings, projects and
cooperation to improve the condition of the world. The set of metaphors is not
but it is deliberately broad in scope to ensure adequate conceptual variety.
Networking and teleconferencing Cooperation may be understood as networking
- the sending and receiving of messages amongst a network of people, groups
and institutions within the "global village". This bypasses the conventional
difficulties of communicating through and between different levels of organizational
hierarchies and opens the doors to new opportunities for cooperation.
Problem: Despite initial enthusiasm, such exchanges tend to evolve
either into chatting, soliloquies or ("under strong leadership")
narrow technical exchanges. They rely on mutual appreciation - there
is only limited capacity for management of conflict. Tension and negative
feedback are designed out -- networks become incestuous and ineffectual. If
the non-viability of a network is recognized, it decays into token exchanges
or is abandoned -- possibly to give rise to another. There is little provision
for collective learning - insight and wisdom are not accumulated.
Revolution Cooperation arises when we "bury our differences"
in a revolutionary struggle to bury some common enemy, usually a group of people
responsible for an iniquitous social structure or for an erroneous belief system.
Self-interest, normally the principal obstacle to successful cooperation is
transmuted into self-righteousness in a "holy war",
Problem: In order to mobilize successfully for such a war, systems
of restraint have to be abandoned. Once abandoned, there is no check on extreme
violence (which may be non-physical) or exploitation by those able to manipulate
the situation to their own ends - in the name of the common cause. There
is almost no capacity to distinguish what should be kept from what should
be abandoned. Collective learning results only after collective revulsion
at the pain and bloodshed and after recognition of the true colours of those
who thrive on their necessity.
Trade and Development Cooperation, especially for some French-speaking
governments, is equivalent to development -- or the policies and procedures
through which it is brought about. In practice this means evolving terms of
trade -- "let's trade" -- perceived as mutually beneficial, whatever
the constraints and recognized inequities under the agreement.
Problem: As in the simplest deal, there is considerable scope within
the terms of the agreement, for poor quality, unserviceable, obsolescent or
hazardous goods. Purchases on credit may be such as to place the purchaser
in semi-permanent bondage. The seller may over-sell, ensuring the placement
of essentially inappropriate products which create more difficulties than
they resolve. The weaker party may be persuaded by a skilled negotiator to
part with assets of considerable value, especially when there is pressure
to sacrifice long-term benefits to short-term relief. Those dealing on both
sides may be more interested in how they benefit personally (kick-backs, career
advancement), irrespective of the longer-term consequences to those whose
interests they are supposed to represent. Collective learning only results
when it is recognized who benefits systematically from such deals and who
is systematically impoverished by them.
Sexual intercourse At its best "making love" is one of the
principal examples of effective cooperation between people -- "make love,
not war". It calls for sensitivity, initiative and receptivity, and enhances
mutual respect. Ideally it ranges from the reassuring to the transforming, and
through such dynamics a new generation is conceived.
Problem: As has been well-publicized, there are many far from ideal
ways in which people engage in sex, from brutal domination by one partner
through various exploitative sexual games -- not to mention the implications
of prostitution, pornography or what some choose to perceive as perversion.
It is questionable how often partners are mutually satisfied by such cooperation.
Considerable emphasis is placed on preliminary techniques for arousing interest,
on short-term "performance", on the level of personal "pay-off
(such as the quality and quantity of orgasms), and on avoiding any long-term
consequences. "Safe-sex" is advocated to avoid mutual infection
and contraception is practiced to avoid the conception of any product from
the union -- except amongst those without the means to care for such issue.
In the unfortunate event of effective conception, considerable means are deployed
to ensure abortion or disposal of the issue by other means. Every effort is
made by the majority to avoid any tangible consequences of such acts of cooperation
- whilst a minority goes to great lengths to rectify infertility -
through artificial insemination and the use of surrogates.
Environmental ecosystems The ecosystems interlinking flora and fauna
are a valued example of how different species can cooperate - the ideal
of symbiosis is a much favoured model. The Gaia Hypothesis is explored as a
model for cooperation at the global scale. Such insights are fundamental to
the "green" movement.
Problem: In the less challenging interpretation, humankind is to be
seen as a single species whose members should cooperate as peacefully as those
of any other species. This loses sight of the hierarchical "pecking order"
obtaining within most such species and the dominance of one or other sex.
It loses sight of the competition for territory and exclusion from herds.
And, except as the dominant species, it loses sight of the consequences of
being part of a food chain. In a more challenging interpretation, humankind
forms a multiplicity of species - not so much by race as by vocation,
specialization, ideology or culture. In this case food chains, if only in
the form of information, raise many questions -- such as why the factions
of the green movement are unsuccessful in functioning symbiotic ally, and
instead draw attention to the other (seven), less symbiotic, forms of interaction
between species - In perhaps the most challenging interpretation, each person
constitutes an ecosystem of roles and mind-sets, which interweave amongst
themselves and with others - raising questions about who (or what) it
is that cooperates.
Drama and Opera A dramatic work can be construed as a design for cooperation
--in which the actors cooperate in exploring themes and dramatic moments which
play off each other to bring out certain qualities and insights. For the integrity
of the work there is necessarily a deep commitment to ensuring the effectiveness
of such cooperation.
Problem: Even within a dramatic work, a distinction is made between
those having minor roles and the stars who have a fundamental need to be set
above the others. And, despite increasing exploration into ways of reducing
the separation between actors and "audience", whether within a theatre,
on television or in the street, there remains a basic distinction between
the dramatic reality and that no longer governed by a particular work -
from which the audience is drawn. In effect actors play at cooperating --
as do many who pretend to cooperate - in contrast to the often less than
cooperative relationships obtaining between them off the stage. What is to
be said of the basic commitment to "seduce" the audience, who are
paying in order to be captured, at least temporarily, by the reality presented.
There is also the question as to whether effective cooperation must necessarily
be scripted or directed, or at least to what degree actors can improvise.
If "all the world's a stage", are there many scripts, and what does
that say about cooperation and the need for its direction ?
Sharing in spirit When spiritual values predominate, whether in an established
religious tradition, a sect, a charismatic movement, or a religious community,
then sel - interest as an inhibitor of cooperation is bypassed. Cooperation
becomes a sharing in spirit - in the name of such as Christ, Allah, Buddha,
Gaia, or of their enlightened representatives. People are "born again"
into a new mode of interaction.
Problem: Difficulties arise when the priorities are not clear and
different factions emerge favouring distinct strategies. Everything then depends
on the manner in which the spiritual values are interpreted and articulated.
Groups become vulnerable to skilled operators who can successfully manipulate
peoples' relationship to their evolving understanding of spiritual values.
It becomes difficult to distinguish between skilled "supervision"
for the good of the whole (as part of a spiritual journey) and skilled manipulation
at the expense of those who accept the process -- for the benefit of the "disciples"
who lead it. An important device used in this process is the stress on some
external threat, its insidious influence on those within the group, and the
need to maintain a strong "non-cooperative" relationship with those
who can be named as vehicles of it - especially when they subscribe to
some alternative form of sharing in spirit.
Building Cooperation may be seen as "building together".
Emphasis is placed on the tangible, if not on construction in its most concrete
sense, whether houses, barns, schools, clinics or community amenities. It
may take the form of major projects (joint ventures) such as dams, aircraft,
defence systems or satellites. Or it may take the form of building communication
networks or distribution networks. Differences are necessarily resolved in
the practicalities of ensuring the viability of whatever is constructed --
the process may even be facilitated by common membership in some group such
as the freemasons for whom building and architecture are fundamental symbols.
Problem: Difficulties arise from the easy association with the economic,
financial and political interests which approve or underwrite such projects
and are involved in their subsequent exploitation. Once their interest has
been aroused, it becomes difficult to dissociate such vested interests from
any larger purpose for which the cooperative project was conceived. Such interests
are totally insensitive (except under legislative constraint) to such issues
as the inappropriateness of the project, wastage of scarce resources, or any
negative social impact - which are denied or viewed as unfortunate necessities.
Each project is viewed in isolation (often ignoring the resources needed for
its upkeep), irrespective of its unfortunate impact on other projects -- thus
corrupting the purpose of the original concept. This leads to a legacy of
silting dams, uninhabitable highrise buildings, inappropriate monoculture,
inoperable factories, obsolescent weapon systems, and abandoned community
Games and Teamwork Games necessarily involve significant cooperation
between the players, whether the games take the form of board games, competitive
or team sports, or war games. In team games, cooperation operates in one way
amongst those of the same team and in another in relationship to the opposing
team(s). Successful business and military strategy is developed through a
strong awareness of the importance of teamwork in relation to opposing teams.
Within a team, explicit recognition is given to the role of each and the manner
in which they should be able to support and substitute for each other in the
event of crisis. Special attention is given by each to "marking the opposite
number" in the opposing team. Each must endeavour to know the games his
opponents (and his team mates) endeavour to play.
Problem: In their least challenging form it is questionable whether
games are a useful model of all but the most sterile form of cooperation --
as when two people hit a ball over a net purely for entertainment. Teams are
built in order to win a continuing series of games -- not just a single game.
As a result both teams and their members shift their focus increasingly to
the way in which their status is measured in series or league tables. Increasing
those measurements becomes the objective of the game -- whether it be the
statistics of ball players or teams, the number of police convictions, bodycounts
from military operations, or financial indicators of corporations. Gamesmanship,
and questionable devices for increasing convictions and bodycounts, become
the rule. The decay of the Olympic spirit, under the influence of politicization,
commercialism, medal counting, and the pressure to improve performance with
drugs, bears witness to the vulnerability of this approach to cooperation.
Celebration People cooperate through gathering together in some ceremonial,
for a celebration, or for a "happening". This form of cooperation
may be extended through media events such as Live Aid, Hands Across America,
or a World Run. It may take the form of celebrating achievements such as the
40th Anniversary of the United Nations, or the annual celebration of "days",
such as One Earth. It may also fulfill a psychologically important ritual
or liturgical function within the life of a group - rekindling enthusiasm
and commitment, and reinforcing a sense of community.
Problem: The great attention aroused by such events, particularly
through the media, easily creates the impression that some lasting cooperation
has been achieved - bypassing the obstacles confronted by conventional
initiatives. Such events legitimately build hopes and create visions of what
might be, but they delude when presented as cooperation of other than the
most ephemeral kind. In contrast to the sacrifices normally demanded by any
significant cooperation, participants have little to lose by being seen to
attend or contribute briefly to a happening. Such events salve consciences,
draining resources away from longer-term projects. Symbols of achievement
parade as realities, disguising healthy responses to non-achievement.
Rule of Law The elaboration of agreements and networks of regulations
binding the relationship between social actors is cooperation in one of its
most lasting forms. Much effort is devoted to formulating resolutions, declarations
of shared principles, and multilateral treaties -- as a means of evolving
the framework of law, whether national or international. The stream of regulations
from the EEC is a prime example of this.
Problem: Much of the effort devoted to articulating such instruments
is in response to the need for visible symbols of achievement at the time
they were voted or signed - whether for public relations purposes or
to justify participation in a meeting. Many such instruments remain dead letters
-- and indeed many are only produced for valid short-term effect, as reminders
of what ought to be done. Treaties either fail to enter into force for lack
of ratifications, or only govern the behaviour of a minority of potential
parties, or are systematically violated, whether in the letter or in the spirit.
Little provision is made for enforcement, with much scope for avoiding fulfillment
of agreed obligations. Little is learnt from the lack of commitment to last
year's resolutions in the throes of articulating those for this year.
Conspiracy of elites Real cooperation may be seen as associated with
the unpublicized, long-term working relationships between elites of whatever
kind. This may range from a group of community "elders", through
"old boy networks" or "nomenklatura", through academic
"invisible colleges", to semi-secret societies such as the freemasons
and Opus Dei. It may be cultivated in closed meetings (Trilateral Commission,
Bilderberg Group) and by secret diplomacy. It may be articulated in secret
agreements, whether between governments, classified research establishments,
intelligence agencies, corporations, crime syndicates or revolutionary groups.
It may take a seemingly innocent form in conspiracies of the spiritually "initiated"
or of like-minded social change agents (the "Aquarian Conspiracy").
Problem: The successes of this form enhance complacency amongst
the elites - the belief that their power and insight provide adequate
social guidance - as well as encouraging non-elites in this same belief,
thus disempowering them. The difficulty with such forms is that there are
no checks ensuring that the self-selected participants act in the interest
of the wider community rather than their own - as with cartels and organized
crime. Consequently groups such as the freemasons and Opus Dei must check
each others excesses in continuing battles hidden from the public eye. Invisible
colleges must engage in primitive skirmishes to deprive each other of larger
shares of scarce resources. Such groups are often poorly equipped to regulate
the excesses of their members, as the publicized excesses of the insider traders,
the freemasons, and irresponsible researchers make clear.
The challenge for the 1990s may involve not so much abandoning
any one of these mind-sets but rather of learning how to avoid being trapped
within any such metaphor as providing "the one solution". In each
case there is a need to see through the veils of opportunistic reporting and
media hype establishing claims of successful cooperation. The danger is one
of being deluded by semblances of cooperation and symbols portrayed as achievements.
Their current status constitutes a re-emergence of idolatry - the
perfection and worship of new forms of "golden calf. Such idols of cooperation
should not disguise the questionable value of efficient rearrangement of the
deck-chairs on the Titanic or of effective use of a tea cup in bailing out
a life-boat being swamped in heavy seas.
Metaphors are required through which to balance the harmonies and discords
engendered by mind-sets such as those above, whether taken together or in
succession. Perhaps the skill called for is the creation of "melodies"
or "dances" through which to give place, duration and significance
to each such form, whether in turn or through new combinations and permutations.
In practical terms, this suggests the need to transcend the extremes of "hierarchy
vs. network" or "majority vs. consensus voting" in seeking
more viable forms of cooperation. The route forward could be through ordering
patterns of differences in which different perspectives and strategies are
interrelated....perhaps as phases in policy cycles....or like the tracery
of struts in a dome....a cathedral of interdependent insights ?
|The bitter lesson to be learnt from the last
30 years ?
|Until we understand how we - "the enlightened co-operators"
-- are part of the problem,
we cannot understand the nature
of the solution required.